Clear sky all through Sunday and light reflecting from snow filled my home with brightness. The higher angle of the sun showed that springtime wasn’t far away, and I felt mostly recovered from the cold I’d caught last week. Still, I felt lethargic and couldn’t stir off the couch to do my rowing machine workout as early in the day as I’d planned on doing.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear a little voice whimpering, “It’s all too hard. So exhausting and painful. It’s always too much to push through, and it never, ever stops.”

The voice belonged to the unhappy younger self I called Queenie, who had been resettled—with reasonable success, I thought—in the imaginary 1890s village of Channelwood. She had told me she was happy there, with young friends to keep her company. The village, located on a far-away island, was a quiet and peaceful place where my younger selves and their companions were free to take care of themselves without interference from the outside world. They didn’t have to contend with other people’s expectations or do anything beyond ordinary farm work…

Hmmm. Maybe I hadn’t given that quite enough thought.

I pictured myself appearing in Channelwood’s kitchen outbuilding around midafternoon. The three older girls, in long dresses and aprons, were all hard at work preparing dinner. Sara was chopping carrots, Ella was rolling a pie crust, and Queenie was sitting on the back steps plucking a chicken. The back door opened onto a view of bare trees, gently sloping hills, and a shallow creek.

Shallow river with bare trees.

(Image credit: Barney Moss)

“Okay, team meeting.” I gestured toward the kitchen table, on which had appeared a teapot and four cups, along with the tin of assorted butter cookies that I had promised Queenie over a year ago (and forgotten about until now). “Wash your hands and come get your tea.”

The girls looked at me curiously, as if they didn’t quite understand what I had in mind. Sara poured hot water from a pail on the hearth into a basin that already held cool water; there was no indoor plumbing here. When she’d gotten the temperature right, the girls washed with an apple-scented bar of homemade soap and gathered around the table.

“I’m not sure I went about this entirely right when I brought you here.” Taking the lid off the cookies, I put the tin back down for the girls to help themselves, which they promptly did while I poured the tea for everyone.

“That is to say,” I went on, “although you’re all safe here and there’s nobody around to bully you or make unfair demands, you still don’t have much time to rest and relax because you always have so many chores.”

Ella took a sip of her tea and shrugged. “Having chores—well, that’s life, isn’t it?”

“Unless we were princesses.” Sara, with a dreamy look, chose a square butter cookie from the assortment and set it down neatly on the edge of her saucer. “And then servants would be doing the chores, and we’d always be kind to them, making sure that they were healthy and well fed because that’s what good princesses do.”

Queenie, picking up a round cookie with swirls of chocolate, didn’t quite snort derisively in response to that, but she looked as if she would have if she hadn’t thought better of it. “Ugh, who’d want to be a princess. They have to learn court etiquette and attend fancy formal events, and nasty people would gossip about the least little mistake. No thanks.”

Frowning slightly, Ella took a breath and then, letting it back out without a word, let the silence lengthen while she poured another cup of tea.

“All right, this is how I see it.” I set down my teacup and looked from one girl to another. “We don’t have any servants, whether or not we might want to, and being self-reliant is a lot of work. This island is not totally cut off from the outside world because a ship comes by every few months with supplies, but even so, you’re obliged to do much more for yourselves than most people—either in the 1890s or a century later. I didn’t give this situation nearly enough thought when I first imagined what this village would be like.”

Then I turned to face Queenie, who was nibbling her cookie and still looked sulky. “And in particular, there is no requirement to do almost everything for yourself, pushing on until you’re exhausted every day, to avoid becoming a victim of gossip or other nastiness if you make a mistake. Those aren’t the only two choices. In fact, the world is full of infinite possibilities. Believe it or not, there are plenty of scenarios in which life is easy and other people are happy to help you. I’ve been remiss in not bringing that to your attention before now. As your future self—or your fairy godmother, if you prefer—I’m about to correct my error.”

I wasn’t costumed as a fairy godmother with a sparkly magic wand, but it didn’t take me long to decide that one could simply appear in my hand. Visualizing a large and ridiculously gaudy silver wand covered with gemstones, I waved it a few times and announced, “There, that’s much better, isn’t it?”

The basin in which the girls had washed their hands was gone, replaced by a capacious kitchen sink. A wood-burning stove had taken the place of the hearth, and a half-open door on the other side of the room revealed a bathroom suitably equipped with plumbing. Everything was in an old-fashioned style that was my best guess as to what might have been available in the 1890s, although I hadn’t actually researched the subject because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of my thoughts by doing so.

“Channelwood’s new water tower is over that way, behind the trees.” After pointing in the general direction of the window above the kitchen sink, I set my imaginary wand down on the table and helped myself to a cookie.

“This ought to be nicer,” said Ella, her tone a bit doubtful, “but now we’re going to have to learn how to do our cooking with that stove.”

“No worries, it shouldn’t take long.” I smiled at her and then turned to Queenie. “And if there’s a day when you mess up and burn something, it’s no big deal. Nobody here will say nasty things if you make a mistake. It’s just practice, that’s all, and practice is information. We learn from it and go forward accordingly.”

After I left the girls to enjoy their new comforts in Channelwood and went to do my workout (which didn’t go well because of bad pacing), it got late in the day, and I never did finish writing this post. I decided to let it settle for a few days while I considered how to incorporate the advice I’d given into my own life.

On Wednesday after work I repeated the rowing machine workout that I’d flubbed on Sunday, and this time it went much better. Pushing away those “it’s too hard” thoughts, I told myself that I was staying nice and steady, at a good sustainable pace. I was, in fact, able to stay much more consistent all through the workout, and now I’m feeling optimistic about my upcoming online race.

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